Passport in hand, in awe of the towering buildings surrounding me, I joined the queue of De Montfort University students awaiting the main event of our trip to New York – a summit led by DMU to launch a new drive to support refugees around the world.
Although the “bomb cyclone” had stopped some of us from attending, those who had made it to New York entered the United Nations building with a sense of optimism – this was the UN and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us.
As I took my seat, the reality set in – who had sat in this seat before? This was my chance to follow in the footsteps of the others who had been in this hall before.
DMU had been invited here to lead a new chapter in the UN’s Together campaign, which encourages governments and organisations across the world to do more to support the plight of refugees.
Having already established support programmes for refugees across Leicester, DMU invited universities around the world to join the campaign and, so far, nine others have signed up: the University of Evansville, Frederick University, Guilford College, Humboldt University of Berlin, Montclair State University, University of Pennsylvania, Federal University of Santa Maria, University of Science and Technology Beijing and Wesleyan University.
As an international relations and journalism student, it was beneficial for my degree – and for my personal development – to attend. The opportunity was open to people across courses, from film studies to politics.
Hundreds of DMU students were joined on that day by representatives from the other nine world higher education institutions to sign an action charter that outlines practical steps universities can make to use the skills and experience on their campuses to help refugees.
The representatives from other institutions proved one thing – that the crisis is global, and DMU is taking the big step of linking up with those of different nationalities, cultures, faiths and languages for a cause that everyone agrees needs addressing.
As the speakers took the stage, the speeches began and questions were asked, I felt a sense of unity. With a reported 65 million refugees and displaced people across the world, the refugee crisis is one of the biggest issues, if not the biggest, that my generation has ever faced. In that moment we all felt part of the solution.
This was far from a small grassroots movement. The current UK ambassador to the UN, Matthew Rycroft, was just one of the guest speakers, receiving a standing ovation for his dedication to the Together campaign.
However, for me, the most inspirational support for the campaign came from the guest universities that spanned the globe. Institutions from Cyprus, Germany, China and the USA all joined DMU to sign the charter and to pledge their support.
Our guests showed us that we can all do more to encourage positive change. For Dr Diya Abdo of Guilford College, the most important lesson was to make each campus a sanctuary, a safe place for refugees to come and learn and integrate with society.
Perhaps most influential was the work of Moritz Schramm and his peers from Humboldt University. By setting up the Refugee Law Clinic, the students are directly helping refugees and asylum seekers in Germany, and helping to give the most vulnerable in society representation and a voice.
Two speeches have stayed with me since returning from New York. The first, from Moritz, who argued that universities should activate their capabilities and should utilise the skill sets of students to benefit international crises. For DMU, I think that this is something we already do and will continue to do successfully.
The last point was by DMU’s head of public engagement, Mark Charlton, who closed the second part of the event by saying that we must all “do more, do better and do tell”. The Together campaign is just the beginning of something major at DMU, and I can’t wait to see what else our universities and fellow students have planned.
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